The two feuding sides on a domestic violence reform bill reached a compromise Wednesday — but a new objection coming out of left field sunk the effort and the bill.
A coalition including law enforcement, domestic violence shelters and a conservative activist organization had come up with a proposal to get rid of outdated language in domestic violence laws. Under the current language, fighting roommates could potentially draw domestic violence charges, while a dating couple who didn’t live together might not qualify.
The proposed version, making violence between couples in a “dating relationship” count as domestic violence, passed the Senate but met difficulty in the House, which preferred language referring to “persons living in the same household.” Rep. Dan Kaiser, R-Aberdeen, then successfully put on language restrict that to “persons of the opposite sex” living together.
When a conference committee of the House and Senate met to hash out the differences Wednesday morning, however, the two opposing sides had come to an agreement.
“We wanted to narrow that scope of household to an actual relationship,” said Kaiser. “Quite frankly homosexual relationships wouldn’t be covered, and I feel they’re domestic relationships, when they get assaulted and beat up, they deserve the protections everybody does.”
The compromise, which was also endorsed by law enforcement and the South Dakota Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, would have defined domestic violence as including people “who are or have been involved in a significant romantic or sexual relationship.”
“Whether we like to admit it or not, domestic violence occurs when you have a relationship,” said Dianna Miller, lobbyist for the Network Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault. “It does not always have to be a married relationship. It does occur in a dating relationship, and we can’t ignore that.”
“I believe that language really hones down the scope for law enforcement and really puts the appropriate take on what a relationship is,” he said.
But two members of the conference committee weren’t on board.
Rep. Troy Heinert, D-Mission, argued that people accused of domestic violence are “guilty until proven innocent.” He proposed abandoning the proposed definition change and instead removing the language that requires law enforcement to arrest someone charged with domestic violence.
Giving law enforcement discretion about whether to arrest people charged with that crime would solve the problems related to the definition of the crime, Heinert and Rep. Mike Stevens, R-Yankton said.
“The ramifications of getting tagged with a domestic violence is more than just a protection order,” said Stevens, a family law attorney. “We don’t have this problem at all… if we give our law enforcement the discretion to do the right thing.”
Other legislators disagreed.
Sen. Craig Tieszen, R-Rapid City and a retired police officer, said before domestic violence charges required arrests, “no one got arrested.”
“We went in the same house six times a night and told them to break it up and get on with their lives, and they continued to beat the crap out of each other,” Tieszen said.
Rep. David Lust, R-Rapid City, urged the committee to pass the compromise, and then consider the mandatory arrest issue next year, if Stevens and Heinert wanted.
But Stevens and Heinert weren’t swayed. They voted against the compromise amendment, which got three yes votes and two no votes but lost because amendments need support from a majority of each house.
Afterwards, Sen. Larry Lucas, D-Mission, gave up and moved to kill the domestic violence bill.
He and Miller said they were disappointed and upset with the bill’s failure.
“We have left them now with a law that now we’ve done nothing with and is confusing and will cause more problems than if we had narrowed the definition,” Miller said. “I think there are issues out there people aren’t being honest about and bringing up.”
This is the second year in a row that a proposed domestic violence reform fell victim to disagreements between the House and Senate. Last year a similar bill went to conference committee, but compromise language failed to get House approval.